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Educators, parents: Accountability must include a complete approach

Posted: 11/21/2011 11:33:49 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2011
Contact: Christina Brey, 608-298-2519, to arrange an interview with an educator in your area

What’s the measure of a successful school?

Educators, parents: Accountability must include a complete approach

MADISON – When it comes to measuring the success of Wisconsin schools, nothing is more essential than taking a complete approach, parents and educators agree.

The findings come from a new report released today by the state’s largest unions of educators, the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin. The report, The ABC’s of School Accountability, includes recommendations for measuring how well local schools are preparing students for the future.

Mary Bell, a Wisconsin Rapids teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association, delivered the report to State Superintendent Tony Evers, who will take the input from parents, grandparents, other citizens and educators to a panel developing a statewide accountability system.

 “In July, Wisconsin teachers and support staff vowed to do our part to provide input from local schools and communities to the School Accountability Task Force,” said Bell. “Since then, our union of educators has focused our time and energy in engaging our members and their communities on the critical issues that impact school success. Through that work, we are giving voice to their views and priorities.”

AFT-Wisconsin President Bryan Kennedy said school accountability systems cannot be developed in a vacuum – it’s necessary to go beyond the conference table and get into the schools and communities. “Forums drew more than 500 people to Green Bay, Eau Claire, South Milwaukee, Kenosha, Reedsburg, Weston (DC Everest school district), Oshkosh and Superior,” Kennedy said. “At the same time, a massive effort to gain feedback was conducted with online communities – reaching a combined audience of 105,000 participants. Online and in communities we received meaningful input and new ideas that should be considered by the Task Force.”

Among the key findings in the report is that parents and educators agree that accountability is important for our schools – but should be measured using a holistic approach. “A complete look at what we expect our schools to provide students is really needed to effectively evaluate how they’re doing, and then hold them accountable,” Bell said.

Based on the findings, recommendations include:

  • Recommendation #1: Wisconsin should create a holistic system of school accountability. Wisconsinites who attended the forums identified breadth of curriculum and student support services as some of the most important qualities they value in their schools. Essentially, schools should be evaluated, in part, based on the opportunities they provide students. Parents and community members attending the listening sessions identified art, music, foreign language and career/technical education specifically as classes they are most concerned about losing – or that they want more of in districts where such programs were deemed insufficient.
  • Recommendation #2: Wisconsin should develop specific criteria for assessing non-tested subject areas. Wisconsin already has academic standards established in a number of areas, and they should be enhanced to include those courses that ensure a well-rounded education.
  • Recommendation #3: Wisconsin should assess key indicators of school quality, including class size, the quality and availability of staff professional development programs, the availability of vital student support services and school climate. This includes measuring class size in the state’s accountability system, gauging the level and nature of support services, and conducting annual state-developed surveys to ensure comparability between schools and districts.
  • Recommendation #4: Wisconsin should link educator evaluation systems to professional development programs that promote teaching effectiveness. If the purpose of accountability is to improve student achievement, then the role of teaching is integral.
  • Recommendation #5: Wisconsin should provide parents with access to meaningful information regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their schools. This information should become part of a new standard for school performance reports.

In spearheading these community conversations, Bell said she believes the unions established a model that can be used successfully on other education topics. “For our union, it was a way to bring voice to the issues that affect our members, their students and public schools across Wisconsin.”

“I believe the information we’re bringing forward is useful and will be of value to the Task Force,” Kennedy said. “This outreach is significant and should not be overlooked.”

Participants, such as Appleton music specialist Dawn Christiansen, relished the chance to talk about issues that are often neglected in talks about accountability or reform. “It was an uplifting and encouraging experience,” said Christiansen, who traveled with a co-worker to the Oshkosh forum. “We both felt happy and proud that our voices were heard and documented.”

Eau Claire Superintendent Ron Heilmann credited the forum as an example of how the district and union can partner effectively to address important issues. One Eau Claire area mom at the forum welcomed the chance to talk about what measures she expects. “All our kids learn differently, we need to be expanding the way that we reach our students,” she said. “An example of that would be project-based learning.”

For a Kenosha grandma, the extra support from early intervention is essential for her family. “We as grandparents and parents have to be the ones to speak for them,” she said.

To read all of the reports, visit www.weac.org/speakout.

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The Wisconsin Education Association Council proudly represents dedicated public education employees across the state by amplifying their voices to ensure Wisconsin maintains high-quality public schools.

 

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